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Did you ever wonder – Ash Wednesday

by Deacon Bob Olsen

Image                Some of you may remember Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes – his weekly commentary on some aspect of life would begin “did you ever wonder…”  That phrase came to mind when I thought about Ash Wednesday.  I have no idea how many Ash Wednesday services I’ve gone to, I’m guessing somewhere between 30 and 40 over my 66 years.  For the bulk of that time what I knew about Ash Wednesday was pretty basic: 1) it was the start of the Lenten Season; 2) you had ash smeared on your forehead (later on I’d learn it was supposed to be a cross); and 3) that there was something about “ashes to ashes dust to dust”.

                I decided to re-read some of my books from School for Deacons and discovered a bit more about Ash Wednesday.  First off it wasn’t until sometime in the 6th Century in the area of ancient Gaul, that Ash Wednesday was first reported as the beginning of the 40 days of Lent.  The history of the 40 days of Lent is interesting, in some areas of the church Saturday’s and Sunday’s weren’t included, some only Sunday’s were excluded and then there was the issue of whether Holy week be included, or if it was how little or how much.  You might want to count the days starting with Ash Wednesday to find out how the forty days of Lent is now observed. 

                While it is interesting to learn of the history of Ash Wednesday and the days of observing the Lenten Fast, the more important purpose for the period has stayed pretty much the same from the beginning of the church.  There were two purposes: first a time of preparation leading up to Baptism on Holy Saturday for new Christians and second, a time of repentance for Christians.  The Ashes are to remind us of our mortality and God’s gift of eternal life.  The Litany of Penitence we say on Ash Wednesday is a corporate, public confession of our failure to love God “with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.”  To serve as Christ served us and to forgive as we have been forgiven.  During the season of Lent we are to examine our lives, repent where we have fallen short and amend our ways in loving God and our neighbors.

Ash Wednesday Services at St. George’s Episcopal Church

Ash Wednesday Service at St. George’s will be at 7:00 pm (March 5)St. George’s Episcopal Church is located at
5600 Winding Way
Carmichael, CA 95608


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